A Sunny Oregon Pelagic

Barely a month back from my California pelagic trip, it was time to set sail again. This time from my favorite place, Newport, OR, and this time with friends, because boat trips are even better with barf-buddies.

All aboard

Lucky for us, it was a calm day at sea and we had some good drugs and good distractions. Past the jetties we found Marbled Murrelets, White-winged Scoters, and Red-necked Phalaropes.

Further along we saw Cassin’s Auklets and Rhinoceros Auklets, a couple still sporting some breeding plumage.

Once in the open seas we found a quartet of shearwaters including:

Sooty Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater
Buller’s Shearwater

And perhaps the “rarest” bird of the trip, a single Flesh-footed Shearwater.

Around here is where I saw my best bird of the trip, a new state bird, Arctic Tern.

There were many of these tiny terns flitting around the sky and diving down to the water.

They have less black in the wings and smaller bill and leg proportions than Common Terns, which we also saw on this trip (but I didn’t get photos of). It takes a well-trained eye to tell those two apart in the skies, I will leave that to the experts.

It was easy to recognize Sabine’s Gulls coming in for a popcorn landing.

And everyone’s favorite friend, Black-footed Albatross.

We missed skuas, but saw many jaegers, including two individual Long-tailed Jaegers.

I managed a craptastic photo of a Parasitic Jaeger.

And we had one very cooperative Pomarine Jaeger.

That put on the best show when it went after a gull with food.

Brutal! And surprisingly, the gull didn’t drop the food. Pretty incredible.

On the return trip, we spent some time on the water by the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

Watching Gray Whales feed close to shore.

Humans for scale

It was a great day at sea! Boat trips are better with friends and even better when we all make it out alive without getting sick!

Turning into an “old salt.”

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

California- Half Moon Bay

Ahh, California. Home to sunshine, fog, the Golden-gate Bridge, and life-birds I can’t see anywhere else. I’ve wanted to try an out-of-state pelagic for a while, and when I heard Debi Shearwater (of Shearwater Journeys) was retiring at the end of this year, I had to sign up.

A destination-pelagic adds another element of risk, but I hoped I could push through the anxiety to see some birds. We landed early in San Francisco and wasted no time before going to Golden Gate Park. Part nature park and amusement-botanical garden-ice-cream-conservatory-museum, it’s crowded but the birds don’t seem to mind. Here I found a female Nuttall’s Woodpecker, my first lifer of the trip.

San Francisco parks are ruled by Pygmy Nuthatches, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Black Phoebes. It was nice to see these guys in their natural habitat.

I fought a mean water sprinkler for a potential lifer Allen’s Hummingbird, but they’re not a slam dunk I.D. since the habitat and timing overlaps with look-alike Rufous Hummingbirds. I got lucky with a tail shot, the best way to separate the two, but the hummingbird I saw has the diagnostic “notched” R2 feather diagnostic of Rufous (vs the narrow “lanceolate” shape of Allen’s). No lifer hummingbird this time.

We stayed in Pacifica since it was about equal distance from Half Moon Bay (pelagic #1) and Sausalito (pelagic #2). It also had a nice beach where we witnessed Heermann’s Gulls in their natural habitat.

After checking in to the Airbnb I went to bed early because I had to board a boat early the next morning.

Debi introduced herself, told us what to expect and we set off to sea shortly after.

I was nervous but the ocean and I kept our calm all day. It was a little too calm. The lack of wind made it foggier limiting viewing distance and many birds like Tufted Puffins just sat on the water.

Occasionally sea life just popped out of the water.

I was okay with that. Do you know who was not sitting on the water? Ashy Storm-Petrels! Foggy little life birds.

This was one of my main targets of the trip.

Ashy-fog Petrel

California seas did not disappoint.

The fog cleared up for a couple of jaeger fly-bys, we saw both Long-tailed and Pomarine Jaeger Parasitic Jaeger.

Black-footed Albatross sat nicely for us on the water.

Hello, friend

As did Red-necked Phalaropes, Sooty Shearwaters, Pink-footed Shearwaters, and Sabin’s Gulls.

Adult and juvenile

I got distant but diagnostic looks at Arctic Terns, my other lifer of the trip.

We saw Humpback Whales, Fur Seals, a Blue Shark, and occasionally a pod of Pacific White-sided Dolphins and Northern Right Whale Dolphins joined us at the bow of the boat.

I made it back to shore with two new birds, a whole lot of sea life, and no puking! And I was lucky enough to get to do it all over again the next day.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bunting to the boat

My five hour pelagic trip at the Oregon Shorebird Festival went so well I thought I’d test my system on an 8-hour late fall trip out of Newport last weekend. It was a good opportunity to pad my Oregon year list to try and get to 300 species. I left work early Friday to make way for the coast.

But first I made a stop at Mary’s Peak near Corvallis to look for a reported Snow Bunting. I had a lot of doubts going in that it would still be there. And even if it was would I be able to see it through the thick fog?

Questionable choices

I parked and walked the half mile to the summit along a service road. It was pretty easy walking lucky for me and my ankle. Almost to the top I saw a man and his daughter on their return trip, the man asked if I was a birder and told me “it’s still here, right next to the picnic tables.” Hooray!

Indeed it was! I almost tripped over the thing. In the misty rain and fog it blended right in with the gravel road. I laid down in the grass and hung out with my life bird (#492). Totally worth the detour!

Gosh you’re cute

I got to Newport, settled in, and before long it was the next morning and time to board the boat. The weather forecast was not good. There was a “hazardous seas” alert until 3am the morning of, and 8-9ft swells predicted for the day. A bad weather forecast does nothing to help anxiety. But lucky for us, the day started out calmer than predicted and we even had some sun!

Oregon you kidder, you.

Since there were no processing ships to chase our captain picked an azimuth and kept on going. About five miles out we spotted a pair of Marbled Murrelets.

Not long after we found a group of feeding birds including mostly Sooty Shearwater.

With a Pink-footed Shearwater in the mix.

This was also where we saw one of our only jaegers of the trip, a Pomarine Jaeger that surprisingly didn’t stay long.

Shortly after we had a Buller’s Shearwater that was one passenger’s 1000th life bird!

Cheers

I’d boarded the boat at 297 Oregon year birds and hoped for Laysan Albatross, Black-legged Kittiwake, or any kind of storm petrel. Eventually we came across a small fishing vessel, catching slime eels (or Hagfish). Birds aren’t picky, they were there too.

Our guide Tim (and a few unwell passengers) chummed the waters here and the birds came on over including a Laysan Albatross! #298!

And several Black-footed Albatross!

This was a good chum stop.

Happy Albatross

The Laysan Albatross floated close to the boat, next to black-footed.

Double-decker

Rumor is there is a (new? re-established?) Laysan Albatross breeding colony in Mexico, so (though still not common), more individuals are being seen on Oregon pelagics, not just the LAAL from the Hawaii colony. This is good news for albatross and for Oregon birders.

Hola or Aloha?

About this time the weather turned dark and the boat turned around. I took another Bonine pill and kept my calm. A third of the way back the captain spotted a group of birds and moved us closer to inspect.

Someone yelled Black-legged Kittiwake! Yes! #299!

How lucky am I? Pretty damn lucky. There were at least two juvenile birds. They look almost like Bonaparte’s Gulls but they have an extra black on the neck and of course black legs.

It felt good to get two birds closer to 300. And birds that are hard if not impossible to see in Oregon on land. And did I mention I didn’t chum the waters? Success all around. I survived! With no puking! And I felt good. Good enough to enjoy myself and think about future trips.

Back on land I met my dad for celebratory drinks and dinner at a quaint little Italian joint in Nye Beach called Sorella. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Of course food always tastes that much better after a pelagic.

Mmmmmmm

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey